SFRA Country Report: India
Vishnu Prasad Thandassery Radhakrishnan
This is my first contribution to the SFRA Review in any format and I am deeply humbled and honored to write the country report for India. The report features an Introduction to the Indian Association for Science Fiction Studies (IASFS) and our activities including the organization of an International online conference in 2020 and proposed activities for 2021, followed by an overview of the Indian SF films and literature released in 2020 and 2021 until now.
IASFS is a non-profit association established on 2nd January 1998. The association’s headquarters is in Bangalore, Karnataka State. This is the only registered association in India which promotes the research in science fiction and fantasy. The association promotes research in the field of Science Fiction, organizes conferences and conducts SF short story writing workshops for Indian citizens of all ages and levels of education. IASFS has organized 14 National and 5 International Science Fiction conferences at different locations in India. The Association has collaborated with many Colleges, Universities, Local Bodies and Institutions in organizing conferences. Hence, it was able to bring together hundreds of academicians, scholars, students, scientists, writers, publishers, critics, movie makers, journalists, fans, industrialists, technologists, farmers and readers. So far the Annual Conferences of IASFS were held at Chennai, Coimbatore, Gandhigram, Gudiattam and Vellore in Tamil Nadu, Bangalore, Yelahatti and Mysore in Karnataka, Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Aurangabad and Pune in Maharashtra, Pondicherry, and Ernakulum in Kerala, my home state. Each conference had plenary sessions and story reading sessions by respective authors in addition to the paper presentations. IASFS had also arranged a SF Story Writing Workshop conducted by Eric Miller and story reading sessions by respective SF writers. The association was also able to organize a video conference with Professor James E Gunn, Director of the Center for Science Fiction Studies at Kansas University.
Dr. Srinarahari is the Secretary-General of IASFS and he plans and distributes all the duties and activities of the association including memberships, roles of members in association and conference related activities. I am a life member of the association since 2019. The 19th Annual or the 5th International Science Fiction virtual Conference of the association was held in collaboration with Bangalore University, from December 7 to 10 in 2020. This conference was entitled “All Roads to Science Fiction”. A unique feature of the conference was that all the 52 departments of the Bangalore University, SF fans, media and the general public had converged at “ISFC 2020”. Themes of the conference varied from myths to advanced technology and to the life in other worlds. The conference was inaugurated by the Chief Minister of Karnataka State, and the Deputy Chief Minister, the Minister for Higher Education, the Minister for Primary and Secondary Education, the Vice Chancellor of Bangalore University, and the Physics Nobel Laureate of 2019 Professor Didier Patrick Queloz had made their esteemed presence. Some of the highlights of this conference include plenary sessions from SF experts and scholars from different countries, paper presentations, special lectures, interviews, panel discussions, and the narration of SF stories. Guest Speakers of the conference included science fiction writers from Czech Republic, Julie Novakova and Lucie Lukacovicova. The conference also hosted guest speakers from different disciplines including Neural Engineer Dr. John RoLacco from Singapore, NASA scientist Ravikumar Kopparapu, and Dr. Ashish Mahabal, Astronomer and Data Scientist from Caltech.
The Association publishes a quarterly magazine entitled Indian Journal of Science Fiction Studies. It comprises of papers and stories presented in the previous conferences, review of books, and an interaction by the readers. As part of the conference, we had also prepared a collection of all the abstracts received for the conference and it was released as an E-book after the conference. Selected papers from the conference will be published in a peer reviewed journal maybe later this year. IASFS proposes to hold Regional, National and an International Conferences during 2021-22. This year’s National Conference may be held at Shridi in Maharashtra.
As for the recent developments in Science Fiction novels, films, and TV shows from India, there is very little to mention from the year 2020 till now. One SF novel worth noting is Samit Basu’s Chosen Spirits. This is a dystopia set in a near Indian future and has all the elements of a traditional dystopia like surveillance, an exploitative government, and the manipulation of technology. It was featured in the short list of the JCB Prize for Literature in 2020. Other honorable mentions include The Wall by Gautam Bhatia, Analog/Virtual: And Other Simulations of Your Future by Lavanya Lakshminarayan, Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar, and Hunted by the Sky written by Tanaz Bhathena. S.B. Divya, who is known for her SF short stories, published her first SF novel Machinehood in March 2021.When it comes to SF films and TV shows, the trend is no different in the number of production. Only two SF films were released in theatres after the pandemic. It is to be noted that both of these are Telugu-language films. Disco Raja directed by Vi Anand was released on 24th January 2020 before the lockdown phases started in India. Zombie Reddy directed by Prasanth Varma was released on 5th February 2021 when the theatres partially reopened amidst the pandemic. This film is considered as the first zombie film in Telugu language and it is also based on the COVID-19 pandemic. Two Hindi language SF web series were released in 2020, Betaal and JL50. Betaal is a zombie horror series directed by Patrick Graham and it was released on Netflix. Even though it received mixed to negative reviews, it is still India’s first zombie web series. JL50 is directed by Shailender Vyas and it is available on the streaming platform Sony Liv. OK Computer is the only Indian SF series released in 2021 till now. This SF comedy drama series is directed by Pooja Shetty and Neil Pagedar and it was released on Disney+ Hotstar.
I feel that this is the ideal time for me to write a country report for India. Because India is going through the worst second wave of COVID pandemic and people are dying from the lack of oxygen supply in hospitals all over the country. It feels like we are living in a dystopia on the verge of apocalypse which also reflects our common interest in this venture, Science Fiction. Let us hope that the pandemic will be over very soon so that we can survive this trial and get back to our normal lives.
Vishnu Prasad Thandassery Radhakrishnan is a Ph.D. Student in the English department of St. Thomas’ College (affiliated to the University of Calicut) in Thrissur, Kerala, India. His MA dissertation was on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. In his Ph.D. thesis, he is working on Young Adult Dystopian literature which tries to look into the genre’s impact on popular culture, film adaptations, and social media discussions all over the world. Vishnu is a lifetime member of the Indian Association for Science Fiction Studies (IASFS) which promotes science fiction research both in English and India’s regional languages and organizes an International Science Fiction Conference every year. He is also the current country representative of India for the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA). Vishnu is also a member of the YA Studies Association and his research interests include Science Fiction and Fantasy, Utopias and Dystopias, Children’s and Young Adult Literature and Media, Gothic Studies and Popular Culture Studies.